What can you do to help empower women caregivers?
Did you know that women are caregivers in 85 to 95% of cases?
In order to reduce the burden of caregiving on women, there is a need for the community to find ways to creatively offer a hand. There are several kind and simple actions that you could take right now to support the women caregivers that you know:
Make sure to continue to include caregivers in family and social activities so they do not feel isolated. There is a tendency for couples who are experiencing a health crisis to actively, yet unknowingly, isolate themselves. There are actions that can be taken to ensure the caregiver can participate in family and social events. One example is for family gatherings to take place in a location that is suitable for both the caregiver and the person they care for to attend. Use creativity to make certain that these social events work well for the couple that is experiencing a health challenge. Perhaps they want to meet in a neutral location, a quiet location, at their home or somewhere else. Let them steer the decision as to what works best for them.
Offer them a mini-break, and share caregiving responsibilities when possible. Numerous caregivers spend all day, every day caring and have little or no respite for themselves. They might or might not be trained as a professional caregiver. The one thing we know for sure is that they typically have no time left for themselves and they run the risk of compassion fatigue. Are you in a position where you could step into the role of caregiver for a few hours in a week, to give the primary caregiver a much-needed break? Or, can you encourage other family members to discuss ways in which the responsibility of caring could be evenly divided?
Offer a compassionate ear. Caregivers are known for dutifully performing the role of caring, often without showing any signs that they have worries or concerns in connection with their caregiving role. In reality, there are many caregivers who are experiencing anxiety and/or stress and could benefit from having someone to confide in. The caregiver will not expect you to solve their problems, but they would be grateful if you were willing to have that supportive conversation. Next time you are with the caregiver, strike up a conversation to find out how they really are and if there is anything you can do to help them. Also, scan for things to share with them that are positive and encouraging. Perhaps you can encourage them to start a gratitude journal or share with them the strength that you observe in them.
Support their extreme self-care that is needed. The caregiver can suffer from mental and physical health problems which might or might not be related to their caregiving duties. It is common for caregivers who choose to focus solely on the well-being of the person they are caring for, to markedly discount or sometimes disregard any personal health concerns they have. Our physicians know that most caregivers are not regularly going to their doctor visits or caring for themselves like they did previously to taking on the caregiving role. You can ask them how they are feeling and encourage them to seek professional medical advice if it appears they might require it. If the health of the caregiver deteriorates, then this could impact the well-being of the person whom they care for. Find creative ways to support the caregiver’s health. Invite them to attend a yoga class with you. Drop off a bath basket for them to enjoy a luxurious bubble bath. Offer to spend some time with their loved one so they can treat themselves to a manicure. Leave them some healthy vegetables from your garden. These dutiful caregivers desperately need to fill their tank with what comforts them. You have the opportunity to support them in this critical time of need.
I often here that “God found the strongest women and made them caregivers.” And although that might be true most of the time, they really need us to support them in an active way. Your kindness and supportive action have significant power. Use your love, skills and initiative to encourage and support the caregivers. Sometimes, we need someone to be there for us. We don’t need them to do anything specific. We just need them to let us know that we are cared for and supported. It is one of the many gifts that make a significant difference.
Laura Nissen is a dementia specialist for Luther Manor Communities in Dubuque.